by M. Maharlika
“Get out of here!” Aling Diding shouted angrily, as she was throwing stuff out on to the street.
This is the scene that met Marga when she returned home one Wednesday afternoon. Aling Diding is the owner of their rented house in Tondo, Manila. Marga is eighteen and lives together with her mother and younger sister Melanie, who is fifteen. Marga had just come back from job hunting; she had been looking for some weeks now without success. She’d finished working in a Chinese restaurant chain two months ago, after her temporary contract expired. So now, the little family were more in debt than ever, as they no longer had any form of income. Marga was the only one who could work, because their mother was very ill and the younger sister was still going to school. Marga pleaded with the landlady:
“Aling Diding please, please give us a few more weeks.”
“You’re always asking for more time! It’s been three months since you last paid the rent,” she angrily barked at them.
“We promise to pay you soon – please give us a grace period. I’m sorry because we had to use the rent money to buy my mother’s medicine,” she explained.
“I’ll give you one last chance, Marga. If you don’t pay by next week, then I’ll call the police to get all your stuff out of my house,” she heatedly warned them.
“Thank you very much, aling Diding, and I’m sorry.” Marga was very grateful that aling Diding had agreed to her request.
“Make sure you keep that promise, Marga,” she said, turning around and walking away from them.
When aling Diding left, the gossipers in their compound also vanished. They’d been watching the whole scene as if they were watching some dramatic telenovela.[i] Marga went out on to the street and picked up their belongings one by one that the landlady had thrown out on to the street.
“You came just at the right time, ate, otherwise we don’t know what we would have done,” said Melanie with teary eyes
“I’m very sorry child that I can’t help with this situation – don’t worry, because I can go to the Henares’ house to do their laundry tomorrow,” their mother Linda said sadly.
“Let it go, it’s okay. It’s okay, okay?” Marga said even though she didn’t know where she was going to get the money for the rent.
“What if I work too, ate?” Melanie suggested.
“Put that thought out of your head Mel. You’ll do nothing of the sort! Your job is to finish your studies. Is that clear!?”
“Yes, ate. I’m sorry,” Melanie answered meekly.
“Let’s trust in God, because He will help us and we will survive,” Marga said with hope in her heart. “We have to overcome the trials that God sends us.”
“So why don’t you apply for a job at the place where I work?” Kris suggested while puffing on a cigarette.
She and Marga were hanging out at aling Bebang’s sari-sari store. Kris is Marga’s childhood friend. They grew up together in Tondo, Manila
“And where is that? In the club where you are working? My mother wouldn’t like it,” Marga declined immediately.
“And then what? Look for those jobs that will take you forever? You know that aling Diding has given you only a week to pay,” she said.
Marga didn’t answer her straight away. She was quiet – thinking about the rights and wrongs. But she had no time to waste – that was true.
“You know you don’t have a choice, but to grab any opportunity that comes your way,” Kris added.
“Ah, don’t worry – I’m sure I’ll find a good job tomorrow morning,” she said with a hopeful heart.
“It’s up to you, but if you change your mind you know where to find me, and you’re lucky because madam wants you to work for her,” Kris continued, talking about Madam Gracia who owns the club where she works.
“Thank you, but I’m going to get the rent in a good way,” she answered.
“It’s your decision, but don’t wait until you die with your eyes wide open, because of your principle,” she said.
Kris was a good friend, but because of the difficulties in her life, she had ended up in that job in the club, which literally meant she had to sell her body. It’s sad to think that life is often like that – unfair.
The next day Marga woke up early to go look for a job.
“I’m going now, nay,” she called to her mother.
She kept calling her but got no answer.
“Mel, is nanay in the bedroom?” She asked her sister who was cleaning the kitchen.
“Yes, ate. Maybe she’s still sleeping?” her sister answered.
“I’ll go and see,” Marga said, and walked into the small bedroom.
“Nay–! Nay?! What happened?!
“Mel!” she called her younger sister for help. She was terrified to see her mother lying on the floor, unconscious.
“Ate – oh no, what happened?” They both burst into tears, but managed to pull themselves together, so they could help their mother.
“I don’t know, call help. Come on!” Marga ordered her younger sister to go out on to the street and ask for help.
After a few minutes, Melanie came back with one of the barangay police officers.
“Marga, let’s get Linda to the hospital straightaway!” The barangay policeman urged her.
“All right,” Marga immediately agreed.
“But we don’t have any money for a hospital ate,” Melanie pleaded hopelessly.
“I’ll take care of it myself,” Marga told her.
Marga didn’t know what to do or where to get the money from to help her sick mother. But she needed to be strong for her mother and younger sister.
Marga and her sister were able to talk to the doctor at the hospital.
“Your mother is in a very serious condition. It was good you brought her to the hospital in time, it will be a great help to her. But her heart is in very bad condition. She may need heart surgery. If her heart doesn’t show any signs of improving, or if it does not return to its normal condition, then she will need an operation. In such a case, that can be quite a costly affair,” said the doctor. He continued, “you will have to be prepared to find a considerable amount of money for her operation if she needs surgery. I can give you the details later. But to be blunt, it will cost in excess of 300, 000 pesos.”
Somehow, they were a little relieved when the doctor told them that their mother was fine for the time being. But this seemed to be a temporary condition, because without their mother’s improvement, she would surely need surgery.
“Mel, I’ll go home and get the clothes that nanay will need, and I’ll bring some of your clothes as well, she told her younger sister.
“Ok, I’ll wait here for you,” Melanie answered.
After she gave Melanie some money, so she could buy whatever she needed for her and their mother, she went back to the house to get everything they would need at the hospital. After she had packed everything, they would need, she left the house, and just before reaching the corner of their compound, she bumped into Kris.
“Hey Marga, I heard what happened to tita Linda, how is she?” her friend asked.
“Nanay is better, but she might need heart surgery later, but we have no money to pay for it,” she said despondently.
“In that case come with me in the club – try and see what you can grab there,” Kris offered.
“I can’t do that kind of work Kris. I’m scared.”
“Well where do you expect to get the money from? You don’t have any money,” said Kris plainly.
Because of the gravity of the problem, she had no alternative, but to go to the club where Kris worked as a dancer and entertainer, and see if she could get work there too.
At the club, “Black Room”, in Ermita, Manila
“Madam, you have a visitor,” Kris said as they entered the boss’s office.
“And who is this pretty girl?” madam said flitting her gaze from Kris to Marga.
“The girl I told you about Madam,” Kris answered.
“I see,” madam said turning to Marga, and running her eyes up and down her young body.
“Madam, Marga wants to work here,” Kris said, causing Madam Gracia’s face to break out into a wide grin.
“Of course, of course,” said madam still smiling.
“And madam, if she can get an advance, because her mother is in hospital,” Kris asked.
“I can give you some money in advance from your salary, but not much, since you haven’t started yet,” she offered.
“I appreciate it Madam Gracia – it will be a big help – don’t worry, I will do the best I can at this job,” she said earnestly.
“That’s good – we’re agreed then,” madam said smiling again.
“Thank you very much!” She was very grateful that Madam Gracia could lend her the money.
The same day, Marga immediately rushed to the hospital to deliver half of the money she had borrowed from Madam Gracia as a deposit for the surgery, and gave it to her sister in the hospital, so she could give it to the hospital administration the next day. She also paid the rent from the other half of the money.
“Look after nanay, okay?” she said to her sister. She had to leave her sister there looking after their mother, because it was her first night working at the club.
“Are you really sure you want to work there? There are so many nasty things there that might hurt you,” she said as she was worried about her sister.
“I can do it,” she said, perhaps trying mostly to convince herself. “It’s for our mother. God has shown me this is the right thing to do.”
“Alright just be safe,” and God bless you,” she said.
“Okay I have to go now before it gets too late – watch over our mother. I will come back as soon as I’ve finished work,” she said saying goodbye.
She was reluctant to walk out of the hospital, knowing what was awaiting her. But it’s true that beggars can’t be choosers was the only thought she was left with.
“Hay .. Be strong, Marga”! Her little sister said as they parted.
Upon arriving at the club, she immediately ran into Kris. They went straight to the dressing room. Kris helped her get dressed for the show – the garment she had to wear was such that you could almost see the soul of the wearer.
“Oh my God!” She gasped. Just wearing this outfit makes my knees weak.”
“Don’t overreact – it’s just a dress, and you’ll get used to it,” Kris said.
She was nervous and worried about what Kris was going to show her next.
“I’m going to point out some basic pole dancing moves, and it’ll be easy since you’re good at dancing,” said Kris.
“You will be the new pole dancer in the club. The regular clients always like seeing a new girl,” said Kris trying to encourage her.
She became even more nervous, because she was going to dance on stage, with a lot of men ogling her, and perhaps many of them will be drunk, she thought to herself.
“You have to grind the pole using your thighs, and wear an inviting expression,” Kris explained.
She taught her the steps and how to dance using the pole. It was a little bit hard, because basically Marga was a really shy Christian girl who went to church every Sunday. But she had to sacrifice herself for her mother. Like a female Abraham in the Bible, God had given her this trial to test her faith. She wasn’t to offer a child like Abraham, but herself. Marga thought of her mother lying unconscious in hospital. There was no one to help her. It was only Marga that could help her. She had to make this sacrifice, so that her mother might live. She was the only person in the world who could help her mother.
“That’s it; it’s a little bit more complicated, and it’s obvious you’re not used to it, but you’ll get better with practice,” Kris advised her.
“I hope I can do it well,” she said.
“Just think positively. You can earn a lot of money here – even in just a few days.”
After one hour of practice, she was ready to perform – she felt really uneasy. She just hoped she wouldn’t mess it up, she thought to herself.
Madam Gracia came into the dressing room. “Are you ready?” she asked grinning.
“Yes, madam,” Marga answered nervously.
“Get ready – you’ll be called for soon,” she said, and left the dressing room.
Marga prepared herself as best she could, and prayed everything would be fine.
“AND FOR TONIGHT’S SHOW, LET’S WELCOME THE NEW GIRL OF THIS HAVEN, MARGA!!” the MC loudly introduced her to the crowd.
When Marga entered the stage, music began to play. She started to dance, even although she was still very apprehensive. All she could hear were cheers, wolf whistles and shouts from the drunken guests. She forced herself to perform all the steps that Kris had taught her. After the performance, the drunken audience became wild, demanding another performance. Many of them tried to approach her, so she felt frightened; but it was a good thing there were bouncers inside to protect the dancers. When Marga went back to the dressing room, she met Kris, who seemed so delighted ….
“You were really good out there, Marga. It seems like it’s not your first time.”
“Yes. I’m relieved it’s all over – I think I almost fainted out there,” she laughed.
Madam Gracia suddenly came into the dressing room.
“I didn’t make a mistake when I gave you the job! The clients are looking forward to your next performance. Everyone wants to take you out,” said Madam Gracia happily.
“Take out? What does that mean?” Marga stuttered while asking the question.
“It means some of the clients want to take you out of the club – they are always generous,” she answered frankly.
“No, I don’t want to do that. It was hard enough just dancing on the stage. I don’t want to do more,” she said declining the offer.
“I’m just telling you what the customers said to me. It’s up you what you do. It’s you’re decision if you want to go with them or not. And another thing – the person in desperate need will most likely take what is offered. You’ll come to understand the meaning of those words,” said Madam Gracia, who then left the room.
She was horrified at madam’s words. What did she want her to do?
“Don’t mind her. That’s the way she is – upfront and blunt,” Kris said, as if offering a plaster for her anticipated hurt.
“It’s fine. I understand,” Marga said to her. But somehow, she still felt frightened that someday Madam Gracia’s words would take material form. Still, she hoped they wouldn’t.
It was almost morning when she got back to the hospital. She had bought some fresh fruit and food for her mother and sister. When she reached the ward, she saw that her mother was still unconscious, and Mel was sleeping in a sitting position beside her mother’s bed. She just let Mel carry on sleeping, as she must have been very tired. She arranged the fruits on the table next to her mother’s bed. Then she sat in the empty chair next to her sister, watching over them.
“Whatever happens, I’ll not neglect you. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you get well,” she silently promised her mother.
“Well, you’re here already,” said Mel waking up.
“Oh yes, I’ve just come actually, and I’ve brought some food too, Mel, – come and eat first,” she said to her sister.
“Okay, ate. I’ll just go to the restroom first. Anyway, the doctor that checked on mother told me that nanay’s heart is still in bad shape, and one of the reasons is that her whole body is very weak,” Mel sadly informed her.
“That’s bad news for us. But don’t lose hope. We have to keep on fighting!”
“Yes. And he said that all we can do for the moment is to wait for a few days for nanay to rest, and then they’ll decide if our mother needs surgery or not,” Mel added sadly.
“Just pray that our mother will be okay, because that’s all we can do right now.”
In truth, Marga was having mixed emotions about the situation, and what she felt the most was a great fear over what might happen.
“But God is still with us, and He will never abandon us,” was her innermost thought.
“And nanay needed to get better, because she was all that Melanie and I have, because our father preferred to be with his mistress, and left us when my little sister was just a baby,” thought Marga to herself, brooding on what life throws at you.
The father of the two girls had left their mother with nothing, except two young children to take care of. He never contacted them or gave any assistance in any way whatsoever. Mel still hadn’t learnt to walk when he abandoned them. Although abandoned, their mother did everything she could to raise the children properly, with no help from the father or anyone else. The church had offered her spiritual help, but were not of the material world. The government were unable to help her, because she wasn’t qualified as a single parent.
Marga needed to be strong for her mother. Her heart was filled with a mixture of regret, desertion and revulsion at the thought of her father. “Why did he leave us? Why do we have no room in your heart – in your life? Why didn’t you choose us? Why did Mel have to grow up with no father?” She couldn’t ever remember the feeling of having a father that guides you and protects you. She became transfixed in her thoughts and tearful about the things that never were and never could be.
After she left the hospital, she went home to get some rest and get dressed, because she had to work in the evening. And tomorrow, Mel could be with their mother. It was a good thing that Mel had her school vacation at this time, so they were able to share being together with their mother and looking after the home. Marga did the housework, and then had a wash, before taking a rest. When evening came, she got prepared to go to the Black Room. She could visit her mother and sister in the hospital first, since the club was just one ride from the hospital, and it was along the way.
Upon arriving at the hospital, she immediately went to the ward, where her mother was. When she got there, her younger sister was tidying up her mother’s bed.
“How’s our mother doing?” she asked her sister.
“Still the same,” Melanie replied, and sounded frustrated at their mother’s condition.
“It’s a difficult situation, eh? I miss all the small talks I have with our mother every day.”
“Me also, ate, I miss hearing my mother’s voice; I just really wish that she would get better soon,” Melanie said in a sad voice.
“Nanay will wake up soon, don’t worry – we’ll get through it. We just have to pray,” she said in an attempt to make things brighter for her younger sister.
“Hopefully, God will hear our prayers,” she said to comfort her sister.
After giving her younger sister some instructions, she left and made her way to the club. She could never imagine that she would end up working in such a place. Her only comfort was that God sends us trials to test our faith. One can’t choose one’s trials. God had chosen that she should work in the devil’s haunt as a pole dancer! If that’s what it took to show God she was a believer, and to save her mother she would do it!
In the Black Room
There were further “trials” awaiting Marga that she had never imagined. Some of the other girls had turned up in her dressing room, and were insulting and verbally abusing her.
“Hopefully, they will stop these insults soon,” she thought to herself.
“Well look if it isn’t the new recruit,” said one of the girls sarcastically, as she strutted into the dressing room with her hands on her hips accompanied by a couple of the other girls.
Marga didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, because so far she only knew Kris in the club. But it was plain the girl that had entered to dressing room together with a couple of the others was referring to her, although she didn’t use her name or address her directly. Marga thought she was being paranoid, so just carried on putting on her make up. She saw in the mirror that Kris had just come into the room. But, the girls continued, adding details to their initial comments.
“Yeah, Lalaine, and she acts as if she’s the prettiest here,” said another girl.
“And what annoyed me more is how Madam Gracia gave her a big role right away – as the star pole dancer,” the girl named Lalaine continued.
This complaint made it evident they were talking about Marga.
“And with that face, huh,” another girl said, and they all started laughing.
Marga just carried on putting on her makeup, as if they weren’t there, hoping Kris would interrupt soon.
“Hey Lalaine, stop bothering Marga, or else I’ll tell Madam Gracia,” Kris said defending Marga.
“We didn’t mention any names, don’t get carried away!” Lalaine snapped in reply.
“Well, obviously, Marga is the new one here, so stop denying it,” Kris responded.
“Kris, let it go,” Marga said.
“Hmmpp! Let’s get going! There’s a bad smell in here,” said Lalaine as she marched out with her buddies.
“Tsk. what a face! She looks like a bull frog,” said Kris when Lalaine had left the room.
“It’s ok. Let it go,” Marga said.
“That’s what they’re always like when a newbie comes here. They act stupid, because they think someone is going to steal their job.”
“Good thing you came along in time,” she said thankfully.
“It’s nothing. Next time they are like that fight back. They’re only bothering you, because they can’t get any clients,” Kris continued.
“Well, I’m glad you really helped me out,” Marga said, smiling at Kris.
“Anyway, are you ready yet? Let’s finish your makeover,” Kris said.
“Yeah, I was just waiting for you to come actually,” she said.
“Ok, let’s get started then.”
After her makeover, Kris asked her to rehearse again. Like before, she still felt very nervous and lost.
“There you go! You’re good to go now, ha-ha,” Kris said happily
“I could never imagine I would do this kind of work, and I really don’t know how to tell my mother about this job whenever she wakes up,” she said to Kris dejectedly.
“She’ll probably understand, especially when you have no other options and no other means of income,” Kris said in support. “You have to do whatever it takes for your family,” she added.
“I hope she’ll understand, and all these struggles will end,” Marga retorted.
“As long as you live, the struggle of life will go on. When there are no more troubles, it can mean only one thing. It will be done. You will have gone home to live with God. But we’re still alive, so we have to keep on fighting,” Kris said trying to open up Marga’s mind to the realities of life.
She continued, “But let’s not get too dramatic, we need to get ready, because your show starts in a minute,” Kris said while perfecting the last details of her costume and make up in front of the huge dressing room mirror.
“That’s right, and I know you’re not the one to get too melodramatic about everything. I’m ready to perform even if I’m still nervous,” she said to her.
“That’s okay, it’s normal, especially when you’re just new here. I used to be just like you before,” Kris said trying to reassure her.
“Of course, I still remember that you really wanted to be a teacher, so it really makes me wonder why you are here,” Marga said to Kris.
“No choice; you know I need to work for my family too. Just like you. I know you wanted to be a lawyer too. But because of the struggles and problems of life, we put aside our dreams, so we can work and put food on the table,” she explained with a cynical expression on her face. “I don’t know why it is, but those people in need will always need more and suffer more,” she added bitterly.
And they both fell into deep thoughts about life, and what the future held in store for them.
Some weeks later:
While dancing to the rhythm of the music, the drunken crowd kept cheering her. She’d been working as a pole dancer now for a few weeks, because she needed to earn a lot of money, since the doctors had informed her that her mother’s heart surgery would be costly. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to earn enough money to pay for her mother’s operation. Madam Gracia had already advanced her a large sum of money.
“What’s that! Three hundred thousand is a huge amount of money,” said Kris.
Kris was worried about the problem Marga was faced with.
“I don’t know what to do, Kris,” Marga told her, feeling very confused.
“Did you try borrowing from madam?” Kris asked.
“Not too sure she’ll lend me more. I already owe her a lot,” she answered.
“Still, you should try, you know.”
“Well, perhaps I can try. I hope she can help me, although I’ve already borrowed a lot,” she said.
They went straightaway to Madam Gracia’s office and asked her for an advance on her salary.
“I can’t give you this time, Marga. I’ve already lent you some money a few days ago, and that’s the n’th time already,” Madam Gracia said.
“I’m sorry I asked, madam. I just really need to borrow some money from you for my mother’s surgery,” she pleaded.
“It’s a big amount of money we’re talking about here, Marga,” Madam Gracia said.
“I just don’t know who to ask anymore,” she said to her
“If you’re so badly in need of money then why don’t you let some of the clients take you out?” Since you need money, the customers are rich here and you would earn a lot of money – even if it was just for one night. I can give you a bigtime client,” Madam Gracia suggested.
She fell into deep thought. This is what she was afraid of in this kind of job. And she has no choice but to try and do everything to finance her mother’s operation. Even if it was against her own will and beliefs – she had no choice but to do it.
“What’s wrong? Just come back here if you decide to do it,” Madam Gracia said, dismissing her.
“I’ll do it,” she said, with her heart full of fear and apprehension.
“Well, it’s the right decision. And it’s certainly not hard to find a good client, since everybody has been asking for you,” Madam Gracia said cheerfully.
“I’ll do this for you, mother,” she said to herself, hoping everything would turn out fine in the end.
Later she met Kris in the club after their show had ended.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Kris asked her in a worried voice.
“Yes, I’m really sure, especially as I have no other option left,” she replied in resignation.
“I just hope your first client is a gentleman, since you’ve never had any experience with men,” Kris said to her frankly.
“Kris watch your mouth,” she said to stop any further discussion on the topic. Even although she was ready, she was still very anxious and scared.
But Kris was right – she was still a virgin, and had never had a boyfriend.
“I’m sure you don’t want a nasty client that is bad to you. You’ve no experience, so I’m really worried for you.”
“It’s okay. I’ll handle it when the time comes,” she said putting on a brave face.
“Hey Marga … Why is the world harsh to unfortunate people like us?” Kris said in an upbeat voice.
“Your mother’s condition is getting worse – she needs to have surgery as soon as possible,” the doctor told her when she arrived at the hospital.
She met Melanie who was sitting by their mother’s bedside; she explained the situation. “Don’t worry, Mel, I’m working on it.”
“I’m sorry I can’t help, ate,” her younger sister said frowning.
“What are you saying? You’re the only one who is looking after our mother. What if you weren’t around? Who could I trust to look after her?” she said in encouragement.
“I know how much trouble you’re having working in the club, but I can’t do anything to help you,” she said almost crying.
“The fact that you’re here to watch and care for our mother is a huge help, so don’t say you’re not helping,” she said trying to make her feel better.
“I’m sorry – I just hope this will all come to an end soon,” said Mel who had cheered up a little.
“Don’t worry, everything happens for a reason – God is watching over us; I know it’s hard, but we have to keep on fighting.
When Marga came to the club, one of the other girls said to her that Madam Gracia wanted to see her, and she had to go to her office straightaway.
“Madam? Did you want to see me?” she asked on entering her office.
“Ah yes, yes, I have some good news for you,” she answered her straight away.
“What is it, madam?” she asked nervously.
“I’ve found the perfect client for you – and he’s a bigtime client. He’s been watching you ever since you first came into the club,” madam said to her.
“Really?” She didn’t know why she was more displeased than happy.
“And do you know how much he wants to pay you for one night? 100 thousand pesos!” She exclaimed. He is a special client, a Chinese businessman who owns a factory here in Manila. He is willing to pay a large amount for young Filipina virgins here at the club.
She was shocked by the news. It was such a large amount, but she had to admit to herself that it would be the answer to all her problems. She would now be able to pay for her mother’s operation, if she could continue attracting rich clients.
“Really?! When is this going to happen?” she asked.
“He’s very eager. He wants to meet you straightaway – tonight.”
“Alright,” she answered and then headed for the dressing room.
Sitting in the balcony bar in the club:
“Wow! Really, girl?” Even Kris was amazed at the fact that a client was willing to pay so much for just one night with a virgin.
“Yes, but I’m still nervous as hell, because I don’t know what to do, and how it’ll work out,” she said, while sitting in the balcony bar drinking a juice, while Kris was smoking a cigarette.
Imagine? One hundred thousand pesos for just one night. What if he wants to take you out every night!? That guy must really like you.”
“My goodness! I haven’t even met him yet, but my knees are trembling already.”
“Marga, Madam Gracia is calling you,” said one of the girls interrupting their conversation.
“I’m coming. Thanks.”
She got up to go to Madam Gracia’s office. It must be the client she was talking about, she thought. Maybe he’s already arrived.
“I’m going Kris. See you later,” she said.
“Well, good luck, tell me about it later,” Kris replied.
Standing outside her boss’s office, she knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she heard her say through the closed door.
Once inside the room, she could see Madam Gracia together with a middle-aged Asian man who was sitting comfortably on the office couch. “That must be the one she’s talking about that’s willing to pay a lot just to take me out,” she thought to herself.
“Mr. Kang, this is Marga, Marga, this is Mr. Kang.”
“Nice to meet you, Marga,” said Mr. Kang smiling. He was well-dressed and looked like a decent Asian businessman.
“You can take her out after her show Mr. Kang,” madam said to him making Marga even more nervous.
“No, perhaps I can take her out straight away,” Mr. Kang said.
“But we already have a contract, Mr. Kang.”
“Okay, I can pay you more if I can have her now,” he insisted.
“Oh my God!” Thought Marga. She thought she was going to faint when she heard this interchange.
She became more nervous, and wasn’t able to say anything, or move her hand in remonstration. She just sat there as they bargained over her.
“Okay, it’s a deal then – thank you Mr. Kang, enjoy!” exclaimed Madam Gracia who was obviously happy.
When they left the bar, they went straight to the car that was driven by Mr. Kang’s bodyguard and drove to the New World Hotel, a five star hotel in Pedro Gil, Ermita, which is popular with Asians, because there is a casino accessible from the hotel. This was the scene of the crime, where her life began to fall into ruins.
“Here’s your money,” said Mr. Kang curtly, throwing a check into her face to pay for the done deed. He left the hotel room abruptly. On the way out, as if in apology, he said, “I’ll see you next time.”
She couldn’t help but cry. She’s a mess. She felt so low and dirty. She’s no different now from the girls working in the club was the thought in her mind. In other words, she was a desperate girl who would do anything. She knew that what she had done was a mortal sin.
“Forgive me, Lord for I have sinned. I hope you forgive me too, nanay,” she prayed, while sitting there half-naked on the edge of the bed. She rose from the bed to go to the bathroom, but found she could hardly walk, and had to limp to the bathroom.
She couldn’t stop crying. She picked up the check that he had thrown at her. Unbelievably, the amount was 150, 000 Php. She was surprised that Mr. Kang had paid her more than the agreed amount. Some tens of thousands more, the price of her purity. She started crying again. She knew she’d get used to it, and maybe one day she could get away from this new life of hers. After leaving the hotel, she immediately went to the hospital to give the initial payment for her mother’s operation. She then met up with her younger sister:
“Where did you get so much money, ate?” Melanie asked in disbelief.
“Madam Gracia lent it to me,” she lied, because she couldn’t tell her what she’d done to get the money.
“Really? Your boss is really kind, ate.”
“Yes, she’s very kind. But maybe I have to work there for a long time to pay back the debt to my boss,” she said, in order to prepare her younger sister for future events.
“Hey! You look like you’re spacing out again,” Kris said to Marga.
“Just thinking,” she said to her. Until now, the memories of what had happened to her were still fresh in her mind.
“Let it go. What matters now is that you can help your mother, so she can have her heart surgery,” Kris said.
“It’s nothing. I’ll just go to the bathroom,” she said.
“Ha ha! She’s trying to wash the dirt away,” said Lalaine, as Marga emerged from the shower.
“She can wash as much as she likes, but the truth is everyone can see that she’s no more now than a slattern, a dirty woman,” said Lalaine loudly who had come into the dressing room.
“Maybe she had an itch. Maybe he remedied her itchiness,” another girl named Pam bitchily added.
Marga just headed for the bathroom while the girls continued their criticism of the “unknown” human being (which was obviously Marga, although they hadn’t addressed her directly). But she just ignored them. She had so many other problems to think about. She leaned against the bathroom door and tried to settle herself. She was angry, but couldn’t determine what or to who she was really angry with. After a few minutes, she left the bathroom. When she came back in the dressing room everybody had gone – perhaps they had started work again.
Marga started to reason quietly to herself:
“It’s good no one is here, it just stresses me when I hear what they are saying. And maybe the time will come when I start answering them back.”
She went out to see Kris again before their shows and performances started.
“What happened to you? You look bothered?” Kris asked, sitting in front of her.
“Nothing. Just some lady bees,” she answered.
“Ha-ha, Lalaine? Don’t mind those bitches, just ignore them. They will get tired of it soon.”
“I hope so!”
Days, weeks, months and years have passed but Marga was still doing a job that is not socially acceptable. But she had now got used to this type of work, so it didn’t bother her much anymore. Her mother had been operated on some years ago, but she didn’t survive the rigours of the surgery, because of her frail body. Until now, Marga couldn’t quite accept what had happened to her mother. After the surgery, she had become weaker and weaker, until finally, several months after the operation, Marga had lost her. At first, Marga had almost lost the will to live because of her mother’s death, but she needed to carry on for the sake of her sister, who was now studying at university.
“You’re here, ate,” Melanie said when she saw Marga coming through the door.
Marga had just come back from work – the job that had changed the beliefs that she used to live by. She had become used to her unworthy life, and her self-image was that she was no better than trash. No good man would ever choose her now. She had lost count of all the men who had used, abused and trespassed across her body. She couldn’t even recall now how she had once condemned this kind of work. But now? It seems that she had been raised to this profession – it now came so natural to her. It was fine with her, if men wanted to use her body, as long as they paid for the privilege of it.
“You’re going to school now? I’m sorry that I only came home now. I had to drop by somewhere,” Marga explained, while giving Melanie her allowance money.
“Yes, it’s okay, because I’d actually just finished preparing, ate,” Melanie said.
“All right, be safe – I’ll get some sleep now.”
“Okay, ate, I’ll be leaving soon – maybe you want to have breakfast first?” Mel offered.
“Maybe later, I’m very sleepy – lock the door okay?”
Marga woke up around about five in the afternoon and then got something to eat as she was starving. Mel had not come back yet. Marga thought Melanie was often coming home late these days. She made a mental note that she would talk to her about this when she finished working in the club tomorrow. After she had had something to eat, she got cleaned up, and prepared herself for her work.
“You’re spacing out again,” Kris remarked when Marga entered the dressing room at the club.
“Just thinking about what’s out there this evening,” she said trying to change the topic.
“Not so much, it’s a weekday,” Kris answered, frowning.
“True. That’s why I’ll maybe just stay here.”
“Your Amboy – your regular client was looking for you,” Kris informed her.
“Carlo? Just let him keep looking,” she said.
“Have your way – but maybe Lalaine will take him,” Kris joked.
“It’s up to him,” she answered lazily.
Carlo is a Filipino-American and one of Marga’s clients. She’s already experienced in this line of work. She already has a lot of clients, and most of them are married. Her very first regular client, Mr. Kang, is also married. So basically, she became his mistress. He financially supported her – especially her needs regarding her mother. However, lately they hadn’t met much because he is based in Singapore. She hardly recognized herself now. Her life and beliefs had changed. She could only rely on herself now – as she was the only one who could fix her own problems. She made her way to the club lounge, where men were getting drunk with girls at their side. She surveyed the bar area and saw a man sitting drinking on his own. He seemed to be broken-hearted. She observed him a little bit more and found him interesting, so she decided to approach him. As she walked towards him, someone tried to block her way. She looked up and saw it was Carlo.
“Hi, Marga, Wanna join me?” He asked right away.
“I’m sorry, Carlo but I have other things to attend to,” she said declining his offer.
“Is that so?” He continued.
“Yes. I’ll go now.”
Carlo walked away to join a friend sitting near the edge of the stage.
Marga made her way to the “broken-hearted” guy, although she didn’t really know why she was so eager to meet him. She approached him, and sat down on a chair in front of him. He immediately looked up at her.
“Sorry. I don’t need a girl,” he said grumpily.
“Why so snooty, lover boy?” Marga said trying to lift his mood and adding a charming smile.
But he didn’t reply. So, she started to study his features instead. He had thick eyebrows and deep-set brown eyes, a fair complexion, and a well-built body; all-in-all, he was very manly, and looked good.
“Why am I looking at this guy in this way – weird,” Marga thought to herself. She shook her head as if trying to rid herself of her silly thoughts.
“Why are you still here? Can’t you just leave me alone?! I don’t need a girl, so get out of my sight,” he said dismissing her irritably.
Instead of responding to his rudeness, she just smiled sweetly, trying to charm him.
“It’s a lot better to drink with someone,” she said in a sweet voice.
But he still didn’t pay any attention to her and just carried on drinking.
“Jerk,” she said under her voice.
“What!?” He asked furrowing his eyebrows.
“Nothing, she said, “just that you’re so handsome,” she said rolling her eyes, but askance so he didn’t see.
She just kept on bothering him. She didn’t know why she took delight in seeing his reactions. If this had been one year ago or so, maybe she would have been ashamed of doing it, but now she was different. She was doing things like this as if it was nothing to her – all the shame and inhibitions were gone from her body. And whether she admitted to herself or not, she seemed to have lost faith in God. She just left the guy sitting there drinking when she had to start her show.
She went home early after work, because she wanted to talk to her sister. She arrived at her house, and went into the bathroom to take a shower. She then went into the bedroom to check on her sister, but she was sleeping. Marga wondered when her sister had arrived home. Marga was tired and decided to go to sleep in the living room, taking a mattress and a pillow from their bedroom.
“Ate? Ate? I’m leaving for school already,” Melanie said waking up her sister.
Marga was still drowsy; but she got up to give Melanie some money. And then she remembered she wanted to talk to her sister.
“Can I talk to you first?” she said to her younger sister. They sat down together on the couch in the living room.
“Sure, what’s it about, ate?” Mel asked in a questioning tone.
“I’ve just noticed that you often get home late and you’re not telling me the reasons behind it.”
“I’m sorry, ate. We’ve just finishing some projects and school activities – especially now that the exams are close,” she explained.
“Well, then next time you can tell me why you’re going to be late and the exact address, so I know how to get hold of you if I have to.”
“Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before, because I know you’re busy at work,” she added.
“You know how dangerous it is nowadays, there are too many bad people wandering the streets. You’re the only family I have, and I’m all you have. That’s why we need to look after each other more,” Marga said to her younger sister.
“Sorry again,” she apologized.
“You’d better hurry now before you’re late for class. You know how our mother wanted you to finish college,” she said reminding her.
“All right, I’m going now.”
“Be careful!” Marga felt relieved after talking to her sister. She didn’t want Melanie to get hurt, because she’s the only one she has, so she had to keep track of what she was doing.
It was late when Marga arrived at the club, because she had prepared dinner for her sister beforehand, and they had eaten the meal together.
“What happened to you? Why are you late, girl?” Kris immediately asked when she came into the club.
“Just some family matters. You know I’ve been very busy lately, and that’s the reason why I had forgotten about Melanie.”
“Ah okay. That’s nice that you’re looking after your sister sometimes.”
“Did you finish performing already?” Marga asked her.
“Yes, just done changing my costume, actually,” Kris answered.
“Ah okay, my schedule on pole dancing starts tomorrow, so I’ll just keep the customers company tonight,” Marga said.
“Anyway, there’s someone looking for you, a handsome guy,” Kris said.
“Huh? Who?” Marga asked.
“I don’t know. I just saw him earlier – just see for yourself.”
“All right,” she said.
When Marga reached the VIP lounge, she saw the man Kris had been talking about. But his back was facing her, so she couldn’t see if this was someone she knew – but the manly shape of his body seemed familiar to her.
“Excuse me sir? Are you looking for me?” She asked approaching the table where the man was sitting. He turned around slowly. But it was dark, so she still couldn’t tell if she knew the guy or not.
“Yes,” he answered, facing her head on.
And yes, she had guessed right – she knew this guy – he’s the grumpy one who snubbed her the other night.
“You?!” she said surprised.
“Yes, me!” he said, smiling. This was the first time she had seen him smile.
“Why are you looking for me? Remember the other night? You didn’t even want to look at me,” she said.
“I’m looking for you, because I want you to personally serve me whenever I’m here,” he said.
“Well that can’t be. You need to go through the management first,” she informed him.
“Don’t worry, I’ve already talked to your boss,” he said smiling again.
She thought it was peculiar that he should start treating her like this now – she wasn’t used to it. He had snubbed her the first time they met. It was bizarre; especially considering that apart from being very handsome, he was also by his appearance obviously very rich, evident from the fact he was wearing a Rolex Pearlmaster.
“Ah okay. Did you order already?” she asked glancing at the table, and seeing a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky, and a small bottle of Dom Perignon champagne placed there with two empty glasses.
“Yes, but you can order something else if you want too. I didn’t know what you like, so I just ordered some champagne,” he explained.
“Ah okay, thank you; just order some Perrier water for me – I have to get back to my friend now; I’ll come back soon,” she said.
When she left him, she was finally able to relax. She didn’t know why she was so nervous.
“Hey, Marga! Did you see the guy?” Kris asked when they met at the bar counter.
“Yes, I’m taking care of him already,” she replied.
“You’re lucky, he looks so yummy, ha-ha,” Kris teased her.
“Whatever,” she just replied.
“Ha-ha, well, I have a client I have to take care of, so I’ll see you later,” she said.
“Okay,” Marga said, and went straight back to the VIP lounge.
When she entered, she saw the man drinking already and he only looked at her when she sat directly in front of him.
“I don’t even know his name,” thought Marga to herself.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
“I’m Stefan,” he answered while looking at her intently.
“I’m Marga,” she answered.
“I know,” he answered that made her wonder.
“Your boss told me,” he added.
He remained silent, when Marga didn’t say anything, so she started to wonder why he wanted to take a woman from the club.
After the evening that she had spent with Stefan, she was summoned by Madam Gracia to tell her that Stefan had already paid the bar fine[ii] to take her out. But he hadn’t mentioned anything to her about it when they were together, but they were to meet tomorrow before lunch to talk about it according to Madam Gracia.
The next day she arrived at the meeting place, Ninyo, one of Manila’s “romantic” restaurants in Malate. She found him sitting at a table on the lower level.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she greeted him formally.
He pointed as by way of invitation to the empty chair in front of him.
“Sit down,” he commanded.
“Ah yes, sir,” she answered quickly.
“I’ve told your boss that I will pay for the time you will spend together with me,” he began.
“What will I do exactly?” she asked in a confused tone.
“You’ll accompany me to my newly purchased holiday residence on an island off the coast of Misamis Oriental,” he explained to her.
Stefan explained to her that amongst his business interests, he was also owner of a marina on the island, allowing yacht owners to dock their boats on payment of a fee.
“How many days?” she immediately asked, thinking about Melanie.
“Maybe a maximum of five days.”
“That’s a pretty long time,” she said, worried about her sister being left alone. “I’ve never left Melanie before – not even once,” she said. “Perhaps I can ask Kris to look after her.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll pay you fifty thousand pesos a day,” he said, which cheered her up no end. But I also want you to accompany me on other trips later for the same per-day fee.
With such an amount, and the promise of future reimbursement, she would be able to stop working in the club, and start a small business; that is, if he was really serious about paying her that amount every day for five consecutive days, and on future occasions, if his attentions continued. She hoped he wasn’t like Mr. Kang, who was good at the start, but petered out suddenly, in step with his waning desire. If Mr. Kang had kept all his promises, she could have left her job a long time ago. “Inconstancy, thy name is man – most gentlemen can’t be profound,” thought Marga to herself.
“Is this for real sir?”
“Yes,” he answered seriously.
“When will we leave?” she asked.
“Tomorrow afternoon – I’ll pick you up here,” he said.
“Alright. I’ll get prepared – and tell my sister.”
When she arrived at home, she met her sister who seemed to have just arrived too.
“How many days are you going to stay there, ate?” Melanie asked her.
“Just for five days,” she replied.
“Be safe always, okay,” Melanie said.
“You too, don’t worry about me – and I’ve already talked to Kris who’s going to look out for you.”
The next day she was standing in front of the restaurant outside Robinson’s Place in Pedro Gil, Malate, where they had agreed to meet. The street was noisy, humid, polluted by streams of Jeepneys, and full of life; populated by hundreds of Filipinos not unlike her – with hopes of a good life. She hadn’t been standing there long when a large black Mercedes-Benz GLC pulled up, and the mall security guard holding a machine gun waved his free hand directing the vehicle where to park. The dark-tinted window on the driver’s side wound down, revealing Stefan’s smiling face.
“Jump in,” he said still smiling.
Once ensconced inside the SUV, she sank into the luxury of the sumptuous black leather seats.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she said smiling at him, while he was engaged in manoeuvring the large vehicle on to the traffic-jammed Pedro Gil.
“Stefan,” he said.
“Huh?” she reacted confused.
“I mean, call me Stefan,” he explained.
“Ok – I thought you wanted me to be your maid or servant on this trip,” she said.
“No, call me Stefan,” he repeated.
“Ah okay, sir — I mean Stefan,” she giggled nervously.
“You look so tense, relax. I don’t bite,” he said with a wide grin on his face.
She didn’t know why she felt so ashamed and nervous. She had been through many of these kinds of situations before, because of her job as a “take-out girl” and escort at the club.
“Sorry, this is the first time I’ll be away from my sister for a few days,” she explained.
He nodded while driving.
“Sorry about that. Maybe you can just call her from time to time,” he advised her.
It was at this point she started to fall for Stefan.
It was now the third day of their trip, and they had decided to go to the most famous beach on the island, Paras Beach.
“Are you ready?” Stefan asked her as she emerged from the bedroom looking every inch the stunning, delectable and desirable woman of Stefan’s dreams.
“Let’s go then,” he said, while taking her hand.
Her heart began to beat faster with this gesture. He’s a gentleman and very caring. It wasn’t difficult for Marga to fall for him, even if she tried to resist his charm. She had been guarding her heart for a long time, and had never had a boyfriend before. Even although she was an escort, she had never given any man the chance to kiss her lips. She just really hoped he felt the same way too. After travelling by rented car, they finally arrived at the beach resort. When walking in to the lobby of the resort hotel, they walked hand-in-hand as if they were a newly wedded couple.
“This is a very nice place. Even if I stayed here forever it would be fine with me,” she said happily.
Stefan didn’t react to what she said, but just stood in front of her looking at her intently.
“What’s going on? Are you ok?” She teased him.
“Nothing. Come on, let’s go,” he said instead.
They spent the day swimming in the deep blue sea and did other activities in the area that day until late afternoon – that’s why they were so tired when they finally returned to their hotel room. They both lay down on the bed on their backs looking up blankly at the ceiling.
“Are you happy?” He asked.
“Sure, are you?” She also asked, while turning sideways so she could see his face.
“Yes, I am,” he answered, and also turned around on his side so he was facing her.
She became so tense when he held her hand. And when she looked at him, she saw that he was staring at her intently again.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I never thought that I’d feel this way towards you,” he admitted.
“What exactly do you feel?” She asked – that made her heart beat faster.
“I love you, I don’t know how it happened; this was just supposed to be a long weekend vacation for me to get away from the stress in the city, so I didn’t expect to fall in love with you.”
“I love you too, I don’t know when it happened, but I know I love you too,” she said crying, the tears running down her cheeks. He licked her tears, and she started to cry harder. She raised one shaking hand to his hair, and her sobs became uncontrollable.
“Why are you crying?” He asked worriedly.
“Because I didn’t expect that this could ever happen to me. You know, because I’ve been working in the club, and you know the kind of person I am. But you still fell for me. I know for a fact that I don’t deserve you – you deserve better,” she helplessly replied.
“Me too, I never expected this to happen. And it’s so sudden.”
“Yes. We just met.”
“It’s okay. Let’s take everything slow. Stop crying. I will never hurt you – that’s a promise,” he said, hugging her lovingly.
Months later, she and Stefan were still together as a couple. And regarding her long-term wishes, he fulfilled her dream of leaving her job and being free from the job that had “jailed” her for a long time. He paid her debts to Madam Gracia, so she could be freed from the prison of her job as a pole dancer, escort and fille de joie; where she had lost all hope and self-esteem as a woman. He had lifted her out of her degradation. Melanie already knew that Stefan was her sister’s boyfriend. The cycle of her life had suddenly changed, which she before had thought was an impossibility.
“Good thing that your heart already found the guy who accepted you, ate,” Melanie said to her one Sunday afternoon.
“Yes, I thought I would end up dying alone,” she said.
“But look at you now, you’re getting married soon,” her sister said happily.
“Don’t worry, you and I will still be together after I’m married,” she said to her.
“I’m happy for you, ate.”
“Thank you, Mel,” she replied.
“It’s time for you to be happy. You’ve sacrificed enough for me and our late mother,” Melanie said.
“It’s nothing. Who else can help and care for you and nanay but me, and you would do the same too, if you had the chance,” she said to her sister.
The following day, she and Stefan met to arrange things for their upcoming wedding.
“How was your day?” He asked after kissing her.
“It’s good, Melanie and I spent the day together, and what about you?”
“Work as usual,” he answered with a tired sigh.
“Wow! Even on weekends, you’re still working. You’re very hardworking,” she complimented him.
“You know I’m an only child, and my parents are old, so I’m the only one they expect to take care of the business,” Stefan explained.
Last week, she was finally able to meet his parents who are both good people; and despite her low status in life compared to them, because they are rich and successful, they still warmly welcomed her into their family. She was very lucky having Stefan, because he accepted her with his whole being without hesitation.
“You’re still young,” she just said.
“Don’t worry I’m used to it,” he just laughed.
Until now, she still couldn’t believe that this man loved her too. She is very grateful to God that he gave her Stefan, someone who will love her entirely, even though he knew about her dark past. She didn’t really abandon God, despite her bad experiences in life. Even though she sometimes doubted Him. He still gave her a precious person that accepted and loved her despite what she has done in the past.
“Even if you’re busy, you still find time to visit your parents – you should be happy, because they’re still alive and kicking. Don’t miss the opportunity that you can still embrace and interact with them,” she advised him.
“Yes ma’am,” he said, and they both laughed.
“I love you, Stefan,” she said while adoringly looking at him.
“I love you too, my Marga,” he answered her and lovingly embraced her.
No matter what she had been through, no matter how hard her experiences had been, she was still able to tackle the struggles life pitched her way with strength and confidence. And even if she got mad with the world for being so unfair, God opened her eyes and gave her a chance to be loved. He gave her a wonderful gift. You just really need to fight and believe you will get through all the tests that will come your way in life.
A few months later Stefan and Marga walked down the aisle together, and then walked hand in hand along the long and winding road that leads into the future. Who would have thought that a woman who had almost given up in life would still meet her Prince Charming. He rescued her and lifted her up, and allowed her to grow up, despite herself.
So fight, because where there’s life, there’s hope!
 Translated and adapted from the original Tagalog.
 Aling is a Filipino word used to address an older woman respectfully.
 Philippine television drama, also known as teleserye; Filipino telenovela is a form of melodramatic serialized fiction, which is very popular.
 The term “ate” is literally used in Filipino when addressing an older sister; it denotes respect and is also used when addressing cousins and friends in the same generation but a little older.
 A sari-sari store is a small neighbourhood convenience store found in the Philippines.
 Filipino: Short for nanay – mum.
 Filipino: Mum.
 A barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village. In metropolitan areas, it often refers to an inner city neighbourhood. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barangay
 Filipino: the word “tita” means literally “aunt”, but it is also used for older women that are close to the family.
 Some time later God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Take your son,” God said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will show you.” Genesis 22:1-5.
 The regular cost for a jeepney ride is ₱8 for every 4 km ride, and about a ₱1 increase per km when going beyond the 4 km . Filipinos describe trips between point A and point B in the number of jeepney rides it takes – as the jeepneys have fixed routes. For instance, “I’ll see you in about one hour or more – it’s three (jeepney) rides away.”
 Used by Asians when referring to American “boys”.
[i] Philippine television drama, also known as teleserye, Filipino telenovelas or P-drama, is a form of melodramatic serialized fiction in television in the Philippines. Teleserye is derived from two Filipino words: “tele”, which is short for “telebisyón” (television) and “sérye” (series).
Teleseryes share some characteristics and have similar roots with classic soap operas and telenovelas, yet the teleserye has evolved into a genre with its own unique characteristics, often working as a social realist reflection of Filipino reality. Teleseryes are aired in prime-time, afternoon, five days a week. They attract a broad audience crossing age and gender lines, and they command the highest advertising rates in the Philippine television industry. The series last anywhere from three months to a year, or even longer, depending on their rating.
Other forms of Philippine dramas include “serials” and “anthologies”, which are usually shown on a weekly basis. These dramas are also intended to air a finite number of episodes usually lasting one season depending on the ratings. (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_television_drama. Accessed: 3 August 2019.
[ii] Bar fine: A “bar fine” is a payment made by a customer to the operators of a bar that allows a dancer, hostess, or some other employee of that bar to leave work early, usually in order to accompany the customer outside the bar.